Johnny Foreigner discover a fresh sense of urgency on 4th LP
Usually the 4th album is about the point a band starts to 'slow down' and 'mature'. In other words, the point where the fire dies out and what little embers remain are repackaged into a 'safer' more 'palatable' format. You know, like Kings of Leon. Johnny Foreigner have bucked the trend here and decided to take the opposite route. This is the loudest, most intense and abrasive record they've put out yet and thank fuck for that.
Johnny Foreigner – You Can Do Better (10/03/14 via Alcopop!)
As a Birmingham based musician myself, Johnny Foreigner (known compassionately as 'JoFo' to their friends, fans and well wishers) are something of an anomaly to me. That rare band who have transcended the lamentable mire of the local scene (or lack there-of) to make a name for themselves on a national and international level. Their wonderful debut album 'Waited Up 'till It Was Light' arrived mere months before the bubble burst and rock music was no longer 'cool' once again and thus the following years 'Grace and the Bigger Picture' failed to do repeat business. Their 3rd album 'Johnny Foreigner vs Everything' seemed to arrive to little fanfare in 2011 meanwhile, which is a crying shame as it was their most cohesive collection to date. After 3 albums (in as many years) the band took stock and added friend and artist Lewes Herriot to their ranks and now they return with what might very well be their defining statement.
A hectic, eclectic and dizzyingly ambitious collection, 'You Can Do Better' almost feels like a debut album (and I mean that in the best possible way), in the manner it tries to be all things to all people (at least all people of an alternative persuasion) and largely succeeds. You've got bubblegum boy/girl harmonies ('Shipping'), knee-jerk math-rock ('In Capitals'), and an almost post-rock conclusion (the aptly titled 'Devastator') all sitting under the same cloud here and it all binds together in a beautifully scrappy way.
'Shipping' hits the ground running with a rush of Junior Laidley's distorted drums before the token dual vocal assault of Alexei Berrow and Kelly Southern brings proceedings into sharp focus. There's an ever so slightly 'wonky' nature to the track that doesn't offset the fact that these guys are extremely accomplished musicians. This dynamic musicianship is reflected in the stunning 'Riff Glitchard', a song that almost sounds like an outtake from Radiohead's 'In Rainbows', only with the 'fuck you' attitude of The Replacements and the grit and gallows humour of Fugazi. The bass lines here are staggering and the melody feels like you've heard it a thousand times before and yet you're hearing it for the first time every time. It's a song that really, only Johnny Foreigner could write, and YCDB is quite frankly an album only Johnny Foreigner could make, and I can't honestly concoct any higher praise than that.
Elsewhere we have 'Le Schwing', which almost sounds like a Hold Steady song written from the perspective of a British Pixies, the oddly uplifting 'To The Death' (“No more songs about suicide” indeed) and 'Stop Talking About Ghosts', which seems to take its inspiration from Canadian collective Broken Social Scene. The Wonderfully titled 'WiFi Beach' meanwhile includes more than a few nods to Pavement. It all sounds unmistakably like Johnny Foreigner though. The glue that holds it all together seems to be the endlessly inventive guitar lines, which are largely hard panned. This gives the record a strangely absorbing and 'live sounding' atmosphere that lingers from the first strum (or thrash) to the last. Remember the first Block Party record? YCDB has elements of that wonderful album only doesn't try so hard and seems so much more likeable as a result.
Jofo have managed to avoid the 'difficult third album' syndrome by sticking to their guns whilst subtly expanding their palette and their abilities as songwriters. If this is the band working on a limited budget then I shudder to think what they could do now with a decent backing. With a collection this consistently and defiantly strong, surely only a fool would bet against them? Can they do better than this?
CLICK HERE to read our interview with the band.